(l, b)≃(209°, -57°) Galactic Coordinates

In October 1958, the Soviet Luna 3 spacecraft travelled to the far side of the moon and returned the first photographs of an astronomical subject not viewable from earth. While the images were low resolution and noisy, they revealed a lunar geography previously unknown.

Images from probes exploring our solar system are a common occurrence today, and continue to present us with data and vistas that can go beyond what was expected or imagined. Acceptance of these photographic views, impossible for us to verify from earth, requires faith –– a photographic faith that what is presented to us is of something that is really there.

The story of “(l, b)≃(209°, -57°) Galactic Coordinates” begins with a box of photographs. While visiting Kiev in 2013, a few items for sale by a street vendor caught my eye. Laid out on a blanket were a variety of Soviet era space ephemera –– badges, books, and a Laika (the space dog) clock. Amongst these was a box of space related photographs, including of rockets and cosmonauts. At the bottom was a bundled stack of large format negatives. Through broken communication (I don’t speak Ukrainian), I learned that the box originated from the vendor’s uncle’s home who had recently passed away, and that he may have spent his career working at Star City in Moscow. After a short negotiation I walked away with the contents of the box, the negatives unseen.

What the negatives are of is unknown. They could be macroscopic, or microscopic –– of a scientific nature, or perhaps not. While enlarging the negatives, I introduce visual elements borrowed from the language of astronomical imaging –– grids, points of interest, irregular edges –– a gentle nudge towards the cosmic abstractions I see.

Over recent years we have experienced remarkable astronomical events here on earth. For each, incredible photos have appeared on social media. These have included a stunning view of an eclipsed sun, purportedly taken from the international space station, and several amazing views of large supermoons hanging above cities. With an innate photographic faith, these images and many like them have been largely accepted. However, these photographs are not real –– a visualized “fake news”.

As we move further into the era of decentralized information through multiple media channels, where “alternative facts” becomes an increasingly normalised aspect of public discourse, along with an era where we are increasingly saturated with photography, including those returned from spacecraft, one has to wonder about photography’s future role in exploration and knowledge. Will we continue to trust the stories photography presents us with?

The title “(l, b)≃(209°, -57°) Galactic Coordinates”, is an astronomical location in the universe. The location of cold, empty space.